This employee wasn’t disabled, but he was fired right before he donated a kidney to his sister. Could he really sue for disability bias?
When Scott Rope was hired by Auto-Chlor as a branch manager, he told a company official he’d be donating a kidney to his sister in a few months.
Over the next several months, Rope informed HR that he’d need to take leave to recover after the surgery. Rope attended regular doctor’s visits during lunch breaks to monitor his blood pressure and health in preparation for the donation.
Rope also informed Auto-Chlor that, depending on how well the surgery and recovery went, he might need additional accommodations upon his return, including more leave, and promised to inform Auto-Chlor once his doctor decided what additional accommodations, if any, he required.
Shortly thereafter — and before he could donate his kidney to his sister — Rope was fired.
Could he sue under the ADA?
Rope sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that the real reason he was fired was Auto-Chlor’s desire to avoid providing him paid leave or to accommodate his anticipated work restrictions.
Rope said Auto-Chlor knew he was associated with his sister — a person with a physical disability — and that the company believed he’d be disabled because he’d need time off work to recover
A court agreed, saying that, “the reasonable inference is that Auto-Chlor acted preemptively to avoid an expense stemming from Rope’s association with his physically disabled sister.” Now the case is off to trial.
Pete Tschanz, writing on the Barnes & Thornburg Current blog, had this takeaway for HR:
Even “routine” personnel decisions may land an employer in hot water – despite being directed toward an employee who appears to fall outside the scope of a protected category. Moreover, it is important to note associational claims are not limited to the ADA. Title VII, for example, contains a similar prohibition….
As such, well written and widely disseminated EEO policies, along with regular anti-discrimination/harassment training, are key to avoiding costly litigation down the line. Where an employer has knowledge of a potential associational claim, it needs to be extra vigilant in documenting its legitimate non-discriminatory business reason for the adverse employment action at issue.
The case is Rope v. Auto-Chlor System of Washington, Inc.